Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009

Participants: Jon, David K, Hershel, Gili, Abraham, Sarah, Binyamin, Moshe Avraham

Sarah is Abraham's wife; this is her second visit. MA contacted me two weeks ago interested in knowing if anyone knew how to play Pentago, as he was interested in learning more about it. I invited him to drop by. He was uninterested in any other games, just in Pentago.

Magic: the Gathering

David++, Jon+

I invited David to come a bit early and we got in a draft and three games of Magic. The first two games were both mana skewed victories. Really, Magic has a mjor flaw and this is it. Way too many games come down to mana screw, even after mulligan rules.

I created a rule a few years ago that helped out immensely; I stopped playing with it when they introduced the new mulligan rules, in order to give them a chance, but we find them wanting. Here is the rule:

Each player can, once only, and only before finishing his or her fifth turn, do either of the following: a) discard a random non-land card from the game to draw a random land card from his or her deck; or b) discard a random land card from the game to draw a random non-land card from his or her deck.

In practice, we look at the bottom of our deck, choose the first one we find, and then shuffle the deck. If, for some reason, this would interfere with some already played card (such as something that puts a card on top of your deck), we work around it in the most sensible fashion.

The one land difference usually turns an unplayable game into an enjoyable one. We have decided to reinstitute this rule in future games.

In our third game, I used this rule, and we had a longer battle. I still lost, though David said my deck was slightly stonger. I played White/Green with a Blue splash. Many fliers, counters, and cards that gave bonuses for the number of creatue type X in the deck. David played Green/Red with Blue.

Stone Age

David, Gili, Abraham, Sarah

First plays for Sarah and David. David starved some of the time, but I don't know the rest.


Hershel 59, Jon 46, Nadine 46, Binyamin 44

First plays for everyone. Binyamin taught the rules, though it was his first time, too. He warned Nadine that she probably wouldn't like it (too complicated), and she didn't. In the end, she didn't not like it as much as she thought she wasn't liking it most of the game.

I thought it was quite good, as did Hershel. Owing to not understanding the strategies and values of resources, we made mistakes in our priorities and only came to realize how valuable the commodity chips were in the last third of the game. It was about that time that we also noticed the first real problem with the game, which was that a different number of cards to acquire these chips are available each round, and if you happen to be last player and N-1 of these cards are turned up, you're screwed - especially if N cards were turned up on the other rounds.

Aside from this, there are a lot of different strategies to explore and many paths end in frustration once you realize that someone else is going to beat you to the payoff in that path and there's no longer anything you can do about it. It is for that reason that I thought playing with chips hidden might be worthwhile: you're just as screwed, but at least you don't know it for a few more rounds.

In our game, Binyamin tried ignoring the tiles altogether, but it didn't pay off fo him; I was able to beat him to the cascading point sets anyway, which was the payoff he needed to compete. I played a balanced game, but ignored the transient points from irrigation too much. Hershel had the most irrigation and tiles, which gave enough of a VP boost to win.


MA and Jon, David, Hershel, or Binyamin

While or between various games, each of us took turns trying this simple abstract. It's a 6x6 board divided into four 3x3 quadrants. Each quadrant can rotate. On your turn, place a piece and rotate a quadrant. Five in a row wins.

6x6 is not a very large board. As we played, we found several of the major patterns, none too difficult to discern if you can keep the abstract lines in your head. Though I didn't prove anything, I pretty muh decided that first player will always win (maybe force a draw), as his first move advantage is huge and second player spend too much time playing catch up. This advatange may be mitigated by allowing the second player to choose to play or swap colors as his first move.

It's a decent abstract. I wasn't thrilled with the way that one player can exactly unrotate the previous rotation of his opponent. I would rather that there be a one move wait between undoing a rotation. I think it would make it slightly more interesting, and also, perhaps, help the second player somewhat.


Sarah+, Abaraham, Gili

First play for Sarah. Everyone thought Abraham was winning, but Sarah snuck through a victory. They played with the suggested introdutory card set.


Jon/David, Binyamin/Nadine

We played a few hands to wrap up the evening.


David Klein said...

Re: Stone age
Jon mentioned in passsing before we started that one could possibly make a viable strategy from starvation. Never feed your people and lose ten points every round. I decided to give it a try. I concentrated on getting people early, since I knew I wouldn't need to feed them. The 1st two rounds were fed by initial food. By the 3rd round I was ready to buy a hut which netted me about 2 points (12 minus 10 from starvation). I continued to concentrate on huts and ended the game very early so that people who had built up resources didn't get a chance to use them effectively.

At the end I won by a comfortable margin, even though I had poor die rolls and misunderstood some of the cards I was buying (I though ALL the cards with people on them were for people. Turned out some were for huts/tools)

In general I enjoyed the game, but prefer PoE since I don't like randomness too much. Still, randomness is very good when playing with unequal opponents (like kids).

David Klein said...

Re: Pentago
Like Jon, I don't really enjoy pure combinatorial games. I probably like them even less than Jon. On the other hand, for a combinatrorial game I enjoyed this one.

The real purpose to this comment though regards Jon's post that he thinks this is a first player win, or at least a tie. As with most such games, Jon's conjecture is an easily proven fact based on strategy stealing: If 2nd player had a forced win, 1st player could steal his strategy by just placing a stone at random and then playing the 2nd player strategy. Since having an extra stone can never hurt, he is assured a win (if the strategy ever requires him to place a stone where he placed the original random move, he can just make another random move). The same argument holds for the much more complicated game of Go. (I am guessing that Jon realized this, and was talking "practical" matters instead of theory).

Yehuda said...

The same argument doesn't hold for Go, because pieces can be removed from the game. It has been demonstrated that either player blindly copying what their opponent does will lose in Go.


David Klein said...

Jon, the argument DOES hold for Go. The fact that pieces get removed does not effect this. Note that the "strategy stealing" proof is nowhere near as simple minded as just copying whatever the second player does in the specific game you are playing which is obviously doomed to failure. The actual argument is as follows:

Assume that there was a strategy that assured a win for player two in Go. That means that for ANY move by player one, the strategy says which move player two should make to ensure a win. By the rules of go, a pass move is legal. So player one can pass on his first move and then pretend he is player two to win the game.

Yehuda said...

I meant that if your statement is based on "Since having an extra stone can never hurt", it's incorrect, since this is patently untrue for Go.

You're proving that IF there is a winning strategy for player 2 then there is a winning strategy for player 1. Of course, we have no clue for any winning strategy yet for either player.

Furthermore, modern Go rules add a 6.5 point differential between player's 1 and 2, which make the initial positions of each player unsymmetrical.

Pentago is unburdened by such a rule.